By C.J. LovelaceFebruary 7, 2020
FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Football coach Gary Freeman Jr. was running late for practice one day and showed up wearing his Army uniform.
That's when Freeman said it truly sank in for his players that he not only serves his community as a volunteer coach, but also his country as a Soldier.
"My players do have questions about the Army when they see me in uniform," Freeman said, who is a major. "I believe I am able to put a positive light on how the Army can be a mechanism to both serve your country and support your family and their activities."
Freeman, a Virginia native and former outside linebacker in his collegiate days at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., took on the "coach" title when he was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His sons -- Jayden, 12, and Tysen, 8 -- started out playing flag football, soccer and other sports through their local YMCA. That's when the call went out for volunteer coaches.
Freeman answered that call and then kept with it when he reported to Fort Detrick, Md., where he serves as deputy chief of staff for Plans, Programming, Analysis and Evaluation at Army Medical Logistics Command.
Freeman volunteers with the Glade Valley Athletic Association in Walkersville, Md., which offers 11 organized sports for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Freeman said he's enjoyed getting to know the athletes and their Families, while watching the youngsters grow and improve on the field. He said he has also used the opportunity to share his Army story.
Discipline, hard work and sacrifice have been central parts of Freeman's message to his players.
As a Soldier, he lives by those values, including last year when he left for nine weeks in support of a military exercise. In his time away, Freeman missed his sons' first few practices and a handful of games.
"Before I left, I explained to them the sacrifices I had to make by being in the military," he said. "I think they understand that ... And I think that you can tell when you're starting to wear on them positively and they understand and appreciate it."
Ryon Mazzocco, head coach of his sons' team and a family friend, said it was a "wow" moment for the kids when they began seeing him as more than just a football coach.
"A lot of the kids did know he was in the Army from his talks," Mazzocco said, "but I don't think they fully realized it until he was running late and had to show up in his uniform, which I thought was great.
"Many of them did thank him for his service, including us coaches."